A more proactive approach needed to keep COVID-19 out of schools
I want to thank teachers, students, staff and their families for the resilience and courage you’ve demonstrated this week in the face of the first COVID-19 outbreak in our public education system.
This is a scary time. There’s no other way to put it. And so, it’s crucial we continue to support each other to ensure that our schools and communities stay safe.
Today the Province announced that Graham Creighton and Auburn Drive High will move to full remote learning for the next two weeks. This is a sensible approach but it comes after several days of missteps.
We now have confirmed community spread inside the HRM, and Dr. Strang is warning about the dangers of gathering in groups of more than five people, yet government has no intention of reducing class sizes. They are choosing to sit on almost $50 million in federal dollars earmarked for classrooms instead of taking proactive measures to keep schools open safely in a sustainable manner.
Restaurants are no longer allowed to have more than five people sit at a table in the Halifax region, yet upwards of 30 teenagers can eat lunch together inside a small, crowded classroom.
The NSTU’s concerns with the government’s COVID-19 school plan are by now well established. We believe that for schools to be able to operate safely class sizes need to be limited to 15 students so everyone can have at least six feet of physical distance at all times. Proper handwashing stations with soap and warm water need to be present in every classroom and all schools should be equipped with modern ventilation systems (not sticks propping open windows). There also needs to be clear and consistent communication protocols so parents know exactly what to expect when there is a positive case inside their child’s school.
Parents, students and teachers were left guessing this week, which led to an unfortunate avalanche of speculation and confusion. Families shouldn’t learn they have been exposed to a dangerous virus on Twitter or in the news. They should be notified first through official channels and provided with the information they need in a timely manner.
Each and every day almost 150,000 people enter a public school in Nova Scotia. It’s the largest and most interconnected workplace in the province. As we teeter on the edge of a second wave of COVID-19 it is imperative that we have the appropriate steps in place to keep this dangerous virus out of schools. Families must be confident that their children and loved ones are not in danger.
I want to be clear, once again, that we have the resources already in hand to take all of these steps. The Trudeau government has provided $48.6 million in non-repayable grants to fund safe and sustainable school reopening. To date, our government has used only $5m of that money to support recreational sports. It has not spent a dime to ensure the safety and sustainability of schools for students and staff.
Unfortunately, instead of having a solid plan, the government appears to be making things up on the fly in the middle of a pandemic. This can’t be allowed to continue. Before this virus is allowed to spread any further, we must do what’s required to keep schools safe and functional. There is literally no time left to delay.
– Paul Wozney